Shhhh! Fizzy Speakeasy fun until it’s not

Speakeasy Review 1
The 1920s roar again in the new immersive theater experience The Speakeasy from Boxcar Theatre. Audience members roam a Prohibition-era speakeasy’s bar, casino and cabaret in an undisclosed location and interact with actors including (from left) Danielle Gray, Gabe Kenney, Peter Ruocco, Gabriel Montoya and Brian Martin. Below: Montoya (left) and Kasondra Walsh have an intimate coversation in a dressing room. Photos by Peter Liu

So I met a fella in a yellow fedora on the steps of a museum, and he told me where to go to find The Speakeasy, a new interactive theater experience created by Nick A. Olivero and Boxcar Theatre.

I reviewed the show for the San Francisco Chronicle, and I have to say this was a hard review to write only because I so wanted to love this ambitious enterprise. The idea is fantastic – re-create the illicit thrills and chills of an illegal speakeasy circa 1923, complete with bathtub gin and moonshine cocktails (which are quite tasty, by the way). Throw in an intimate cabaret stage and house band, a fully equipped casino and you’ve got a recipe for an evening of Roaring ’20s fun.

But that’s just it: getting there and immersing yourself in the world of the show is really the most enjoyable part. Once the play begins, it’s not much fun at all – very serious, in fact. And all that anticipation for a fizzy night fades away.

Here’s an excerpt from my review:

There are singing, dancing, drinking and gambling, and those are the best parts of the three-hour “Speakeasy” experience. As a nightclub, this place jumps.

As a theatrical enterprise, however, the show proves more challenging. An impressive team of 35 actors attempts to command audience attention away from the vice and to the drama. Depending in which room your experience begins (some audience members are in the bar, others are in the cabaret), you might witness two World War I buddies having a tense reunion (complete with flashbacks to the trenches), a married couple from Concord still grieving their son’s death in the war but trying to find the saloon girl he left behind, or the arrival of a flapper with a wandering eye.

Read the full review here.

Speakeasy Review 3

[bonus interview]
I interviewed The Speakeasy creator Nick A. Olivero for the Chronicle. Read the feature here.

Boxcar Theatre’s The Speakeasy continues through April 26 at an undisclosed location. Address revealed after ticket purchase. Tickets are $60-$70.

Theater news: Moon gets `Spirited,’ Encore nabs Nachtrieb, `March’ goes on

42nd Street Moon, the company that specializes in charming productions of classic and lesser-known musicals, has announced a change in its season lineup.

Next March, the previously announced The Baker’s Wife by composer Stephen Schwartz, will be replaced by High Spirits, the musical version of Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit.

“Unfortunately, director Gordon Greenberg, who had delighted audiences on the East Coast with past productions of The Baker’s Wife, had a conflicting obligation,” said 42nd Street Moon artistic director Greg MacKellan. “His production of Stephen Schwartz’s Working has been scheduled for the Old Globe Theatre at the same time we would have done The Baker’s Wife. We hope to include the show in next season’s lineup, and meanwhile we will replace it with `High Spirits.’ As it happens, there will be a major Broadway revival of Blithe Spirit with Angela Lansbury, Christine Ebersole and Rupert Everett at the same time we are doing the musical version.”

The 42nd Street Moon production will star Megan Cavanagh (so funny in the Moon production of Out of This World) as the eccentric Madame Arcati, a role made famous by Beatrice Lillie in the original 1964 Broadway production. Also on board for the Moon cast are Michael Patrick Gaffney, Maureen McVerry and Dyan McBride.

MacKellan will direct and Dave Dobrusky will serve as musical director, with Mick DiScalla on woodwinds.

The 42nd Street Moon 2008-09 season continues with current hit Girl Crazy through Nov. 16 followed by Ben Franklin in Paris opening Nov. 29. High Spirits begins performances March 19 at the Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson St., San Francisco. Call 415-255-8207 or visit for information.


Encore offers Nachtrieb’s `T.I.C.’

Encore Theatre Company, one of the Bay Area’s most intriguing small companies, has announced that it will present the world premiere of San Francisco playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s
T.I.C. Trenchcoat in Common in January at the Magic Theatre.

Nachtrieb came to prominence with his 2006 hit Hunter Gatherers, which won the ATCA/Steinberg New Play Award as well as the Glickman New Play Award. Encore commissioned him to create a new play, which turned into T.I.C., the story of a teenage girl publishing a blog about her Tenant-In-Common building. On a boring early-summer night, from her vantage point in the cottage in back of the building, she has a clear view of the building’s rear windows. She captures her neighbors’ private activities on her cell phone and publishes them online with commentary. When strange, menacing events begin to take place at her home, it’s evident that her journal isn’t going unnoticed. Someone is reading, someone is watching and everyone is in danger.

“As one of the leading Bay Area companies dedicated to developing new work, Encore Theatre Company has found an ideal collaborator in Peter Nachtrieb,” said Encore artistic director Lisa Steindler. “From the moment I saw Peter’s work, I knew that I wanted to support and nurture such an extraordinary artist. I am honored to present this new work by one of the most exciting young playwrights on the scene today.”

Developed with support from the Z Space Studio, T.I.C. will be directed by Ken Prestininzi, associate chair of playwriting at Yale School of Drama, and the cast will include Lance Gardner, Arwen Anderson, Michael Shipley, Liam Vincent, Rebecca White and Anne Darragh.

T.I.C. Trenchoat in Common runs Jan. 2 through Feb. 1 at the Magic Theatre, Building D, Fort Mason Center, Marina Boulevard at Buchanan Street, San Francisco. Tickets are $10-$40. Call 800-838-3006 or visit


Sleepwalkers extend `March’


Sleepwalkers Theatre has announced the extension of its current world premiere production March to November, now playing now through Nov. 15 at the Phoenix Theatre. Performances have been added for Nov. 13, 14, and 15 at 8pm.

Additionally, anyone who brings a program from Boxcar Theatre’s current production of Animal Kingdom to Sleepwalkers on the 13, 14, or 15 can see March to November for $5 at the door.


Inspired by SF Weekly theatre critic Chloe Veltman’s Jan. 9th article “Election Stage Left,” which challenged Bay Area playwrights and theatre companies to create more “political” works, Sleepwalkers answers the call to arms with a classic hero story that assess the relevance of overtly political theatre. With the 2008 election as a backdrop, March to November, by Sleepwalkers co-founder Tore Ingersoll-Thorp, is an examination of one artist’s search to find political responsibility in her work.

Tickets are $14. The Phoenix Theatre is at 414 Mason St. (at Geary), San Francisco. Call 415-814-3944 or visit